Tesco chiefs made to live like everyday shoppers on team trip

27 October 2014 -


Chain’s new boss Dave Lewis reveals he took top managers on a cut-price break to a tiny cottage to get real about customer experiences

Jermaine Haughton

Senior figures at troubled supermarket Tesco were ordered to “reconnect” with shoppers on a recent team-building exercise, new chief executive Dave Lewis has revealed. Following the retailer’s embarrassing £263 million overstatement of profits – and the subsequent emergence of a 92% fall in earnings during the first half of 2014 – Lewis took his top executives on a cut-price minibreak to a tiny cottage in a remote part of Norfolk, where they were required to do their own shopping, cooking and washing up.

From financial woes to management suspensions and slumping sales, the company spent most of the summer in the headlines for all the wrong reasons, and Lewis hopes that by getting real on the experiences of everyday consumers, the company’s leadership will bridge the gap between the C-suite and the public, with the aim of wooing them back. At the very least, the trip’s coverage in the Mail on Sunday and the Guardian will ensure that Tesco is the focus of more light-hearted column inches than it may have got used to in the past couple of months.

On the excursion, Lewis challenged 15 senior management figures – including acting UK chief Robin Terrell, Tesco Bank boss Benny Higgins and group corporate affairs director Rebecca Shelley – to buy goods from the nearest Tesco, along with rival supermarkets, and use the products to whip up meals for the group.

Lewis – who has held his CEO title at the firm for less than two months – said: “I think if you’re in our business and you’re not spending all of your time looking at the quality and the presentation and the taste of the food and the products you serve [then] what are you doing?”

He added: “I took my executive team away for a day and a night. It’s been a very frenetic time and I wanted to get to know the people and talk about where the business was and where it was heading.” Central to that process, he said, was “a hands-on experience of going shopping, buying, preparing [and] eating, and we sat and we looked through it all.”

In the build-up to Christmas, Lewis also wants thousands of his staff at the company’s Cheshunt head office, to spend one day a fortnight in stores. He explained: “I’m trying to get the business to make time for and think about – if they weren’t doing already – the things that matter from a customer point of view: service, availability, quality.”

Lewis has also cut back his own chief exec operation, swapping his limo for the train in an effort to save money. Bonuses and long-term incentives at the group for senior executives, including Lewis, are also under review, as Tesco aims to position itself in a leaner, healthier state to fight off the growing market shares of discount retailers Aldi and Lidl.

The use of team-building trips is not unusual for companies – particularly during bad times when staff at all levels need a valve for relentless pressure. However, Lewis’ move suggests a keenness to build greater unity and transparency among his most senior staff at a time when crucial information about the company has been swept under the carpet. Perhaps most importantly, though, the initiative also hints that Lewis is putting the blame of Tesco’s recent failures solely at the feet of management, rather than the shop-floor staff: a tactical step that could keep workers with direct customer contact on side ahead of the looming festive period.

For more on these issues, sign up to this forthcoming CMI seminar Developing Team Effectiveness.

Tesco logo on cottage courtesy of JuliusKielaitis / Shutterstock.

Powered by Professional Manager